My Version of Psalm 23, “Shepherd”

July 14, 2012

“David Playing the Harp,” by Jan de Bray, 1670

My partner Samantha and  her family are in Jerusalem today, visiting the Tower of David among other significant sites in that city. They’ve been on tour in Israel all week, in advance of her nephew’s bar mitzvah on Monday.

David, the “warrior-poet,” slayer of Goliath, biblical King of Israel, uniter of the Jewish people, and writer of the Psalms.

He was a remarkable poet, and the Psalms are filled with all the complexities of who he was as a man: a fierce warrior, passionate lover, covenanted with God.

Psalms, which is important to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, is my favorite book of the Bible, along with that other great poetic work, the Song of Songs, written by David’s son, Solomon.

Psalm 23 is perhaps one of the most famous pieces of literature the world over. In this psalm, David portrays God as his shepherd. He uses the shepherd as a metaphor for the godly way his people should cope with fear and anxiety in their lives.

Here is my version of Psalm 23, which I’ve called, “Shepherd,” and which appeared in the journal A New Song nearly 20 years ago.

Shepherd

After Psalm 23

You prepare a table for us

in front of our enemies,

picking the sheepfold clean

with your own hands–

raw with the sting of nettle,

stained the color of sheep laurel.

Your back is stiff from bending,

filling your crooked arm

with lupine and false hellebore,

to keep us from having

one-eyed lambs.

From the bluestem foothills

comes the hush of rustling.

You look to the north,

sighting down landscape,

scenting the wind.

Your breath fills air,

pungent as pipe smoke.

Goodness and mercy, friend,

come forth from you as naturally

as clouds darkening this valley.

We would follow you anywhere,

dear shepherd, putting fears aside,

although you often seem foolhardy

in this green land, this restful pool.

Scott Edward Anderson

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